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I remember a time back in 1993 - 1994 for a couple months at our university the Internet was used as a noncount noun, so we would say:

Do you have Internet at your university?

In fact, the Internet has a lot of similarities to electricity and we would say:

Do you have electricity in your house?

But gradually other people just started to say "the Internet" and so our little group at the university followed suit and never thought about it again.

Does anyone remember any official journalistic decision on this, or was our group just an early anomaly?

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Hum, good question. Note that there were still other, non-internet networks like "DecNet" and "BitNet" around the early nineties. – delete Aug 13 '10 at 7:45
I actually have no memory of "Internet" ever being correctly or even commonly used as a non-count noun. The word "internet" as a common noun refers to an interconnection of several networks. "The Internet", with both the definite article and capitalized, came, at least informally, to refer to the mass interconnection of hundreds of networks in a single system under a single set of protocol standards. So "Internet" has really never been a non-count word when correctly used. – Uncle Mikey Aug 13 '10 at 16:14
I think the same person said also "the Internets". :-) – kiamlaluno Aug 13 '10 at 18:52
I love "official journalistic decision". Do journalists make the rules? – Evan Aug 13 '10 at 19:05
@Evan sorry, thinking of the Rechtschreibreform which I guess wouldn't be possible anywhere else: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_orthography_reform_of_1996 – Edward Tanguay Aug 13 '10 at 23:27
up vote 10 down vote accepted

As a point of reference, when people say "The Internet" they are referring to a specific network. When it was first created people used to differentiate between "The Internet" and "an internet" because there were lots of different internets but one of them was special.

In my personal experience people have more recently started saying "Do you have Internet?" because there is only one Internet worth talking about and its existence is assumed, and it has reached the status of a basic utility, like water or electricity or cable. But "Do you have Internet" is equivalent to saying "Do you have Internet access", and not equivalent to "Do you have The Internet?" which sounds odd, as if you're asking if I possess the Internet.

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"When it was first created people used to differentiate between "The Internet" and "an internet" because there were lots of different internets but one of them was special." - evidence? – delete Aug 14 '10 at 3:56
@Shinto Sherlock: No evidence at hand but this Wikipedia article has some info: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_capitalization_conventions – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 16 '10 at 12:48
This tallies with my own experience. In the UK, "internet" is used colloquially as a noncount noun when referring to a connection as a utility, while "the internet" is used when referring to the network itself. – PyroTyger Oct 7 '10 at 8:09
Sounds like you are defining internet in comparison to intranet. Is this actually a question akin to "how did the WWW/http become synonymous with usage of internet?" – mfg Oct 22 '10 at 20:27
@mfg: An organization is an entity, such as a University or business, which operates a network. So if IBM sets up a network which uses internet technology, but that network is only available within IBM, it is an intranet. If IBM and Microsoft connect their respective intranets together, they have created an internet. ONE of the world's internets is THE Internet. This isn't conjecture, this is how the words are used in the computer industry. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 25 '10 at 15:07

I've only ever heard "the internet" and "internet access" used that way, but I have heard other networks such as "NIPRnet" used that way.

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Do you mean you hear people say "The NIPRnet" ? – mfg Oct 22 '10 at 20:28

I've heard Internet as a non-count noun mostly from British speakers -- I can't remember ever hearing it that way from Americans. My guess, then, would be that the American version ("the Internet") became more common and drowned out other forms.

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In the mid nineties (summer of 1995, I think) I provided technical assistance to a biology convention at the University of Wisconsin - Madsion. One of the presentations I helped was about ways to interconnect with other scientists in the discipline and I remember them talking about the "World Wide Web" and "The Internet." From that point on - my earliest exposure to either term - I've always thought about it as "The Internet."

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WIRED magazine switched from "Internet" to "internet" in 2004: http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2004/08/64596

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Capitalisation has nothing to do with this question. It's all about the "the". – Hugo Oct 27 '11 at 14:45

Probably since IPv6 spawned creation of Internet2 :)

'the internet' would refer to the old, more popular internet, the one with insufficient host address space.

Well, kidding.

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